Many artists have seen musical potential in the drawings and poetry of Michael Leunig. The Australian cartoonist – and Australian Living Treasure since 1999 – penned verses and images to accompany Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animalsin a production with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti in 2000 and the following year wrote songs and poetry with Neil Finn, Brett Dean and Tognetti for the ACO’s Parables, Lullabies and Secrets. In fact, there is a long list of Australian composers who have set Leunig’s words to music, including Katy Abott, Lyle Chan, Kate Neal, Lachlan Skipworth and Paul Stanhope to name just a few.

This week Leunig joins singer-songwriter Katie Noonan, her trio Elixir and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra – under the baton of Iain Grandage – in Gratitude and Grief, a collaboration that will see the artist’s poetry set to music, and the cartoonist-poet live-draw visual accompaniments.

Michael Leunig Michael Leunig. Photo © Sam Cooper

While Leunig, whose work is by turns wistful, philosophical and political, admits to having “no real musical capability” himself, it’s clear as he speaks to me over the phone that music has been interwoven with his life and art since...

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